THE World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday raised the alarm over a new outbreak of “unexplained acute hepatitis infections” affecting children across the world.
In a message to commemorate this year’s World Hepatitis Day, the WHO said the new infections brought thousands of acute viral hepatitis infections occurring among children, adolescents and adults yearly into focus.
As of April 21, at least 169 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin were reported from 11 countries in the WHO European Region and one country in the WHO Region of the Americas.
The cases were from the United Kingdom (114), Spain (13), Israel (12), the United States of America (9), Denmark (6), Ireland (5), The Netherlands (4), Italy (4), Norway (2), France (2), Romania (1), and Belgium (1).
WHO said it was working with scientists and policymakers in affected countries to understand the cause of the infection, which it said did not appear to belong to any of the known five types of hepatitis viruses: A,B,C,D, and E.
“This new outbreak brings focus on thousands of acute viral hepatitis infections that occur among children, adolescents and adults every year. Most acute hepatitis infections cause mild disease and even go undetected. But in some cases, they can lead to complications and be fatal.”
In 2019 alone, an estimated 78,000 deaths occurred worldwide due to complications of acute hepatitis A to E infections.
According to the WHO, 1.1 million deaths occur yearly from hepatitis B and C infections, and 9.4 million people are receiving treatment for chronic hepatitis C virus infection.
Only ten per cent of people who have chronic infection with hepatitis B virus are diagnosed, and 22 per cent of them receive treatment.
Forty two per cent of children globally have access to the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.
The world marks Hepatitis Day every July 28 to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver that leads to severe disease and liver cancer.
This year, the WHO highlights the need to bring hepatitis care closer to primary health facilities and communities so that people can have better access to treatment and care, no matter what type of hepatitis they may have.
“Global efforts prioritize the elimination of the hepatitis infections B, C and D infections. Unlike acute viral hepatitis, these three infections cause chronic hepatitis that lasts for several decades and culminates in over one million deaths per year from cirrhosis and liver cancer.
“These three types of chronic hepatitis infections are responsible for over 95 per cent of hepatitis deaths. While we have the guidance and tools to diagnose, treat, and prevent chronic viral hepatitis, these services are often out of reach of communities and are sometimes only available at centralized/specialized hospitals.”
Meanwhile, the organization has urged nations across globe to end hepatitis by 2030.
To achieve the goal, the agency called on countries to achieve specific targets, including reducing new infections of hepatitis B and C by 90 per cent; and reducing hepatitis-related deaths from liver cirrhosis and cancer by 65 per cent.
Others are: ensuring that at least 90 per cent of people with hepatitis B and C virus are diagnosed, and at least 80 per cent of those eligible receive appropriate treatment.